As a dive guide and avid diver, I had the opportunity to dive hundreds of dive sites in different countries. Some considered to be among the best in the world, others not so much. As an underwater photographer, there are a handful of these places that stand out. In the following instalments, I will talk about my favourite site, The Barge, the subjects you can photograph and the techniques you can use on each one.
Today I will talk about an Egyptian favourite, The Barge. Located on the north side of little Gubal island in the Gulf of Suez. As it names says the site is marked by an old barge. It is not clear where it comes from but is commonly accepted that it was used to salvage the cargo of the Ulysses which ran aground and sank in 1887.
There is not much left of the old wreck, however, the area is covered in marine life and is regularly visited by dolphins. This makes the Barge a must for underwater photographers.
Laying on a gentle slope between 9 and 15 meters it is in an optimal position. The barge offers plenty of bottom time to practice your photo skills.
Who lives there?
The wreck itself is home to a great number of species. Because it is regularly dived many have become used to divers and relatively easy to approach. One moray, in particular, is a well-known character and it has been affectionately named George. It’s been living on this site for years and is one of the biggest morays I have ever seen.
Nudibranchs, octopus, scorpionfish, lionfish, The Barge is home to most of them. That abundance of life is why photographers now consider it one of the highlights of any Northern Red Sea trip.
After jumping from the boat, swim towards the wreck and you will see huge numbers of tiger cardinalfish and bigeyes. They hover next to the hull very close to the bottom. Look carefully you may notice some of the cardinalfishes with distended jaws. This indicates the fish is guarding its eggs inside its mouth. These are some of my favourite subjects at The Barge.
Patience is key, once you have spotted the individual move slowly and let the fish get used to you. Try to approach them from the front to get a good look at the eggs between its sharp teeth. Spend some time with an individual and you may see the cardinalfish spits their eggs and then grab them again. This is to allow better oxygenation and offer a great photo opportunity.
Lighting can be tricky, Cardinals spend their time close to the wreck and isolate them from the background can be difficult. Use a snoot to helps concentrate the light on the subject.
The Barge is home to different species of morays, and these are great subjects. Peppered morays are very common and can be regularly seen. A bit of spotlighting, perhaps with a torch or snoot helps to isolate them. Given the white colour of their body, backlighting them works great.
George, the resident giant moray often hides in or around The Barge, and some times in the company of another smaller moray. Occasionally they rest under the hull giving you a great opportunity to capture them surrounded by bigeyes and cardinals.
A creative opportunity
Morays seldom move away and you will be able to practice different techniques. When they are sticking out their head high out of the ground I like to practice with spins. use the eye as the centre of your frame and using a very slow shutter speed rotate the camera. By positioning your strobes inward, you ensure the light will fall only on the head freezing most of the movement leaving the unlit background subject to the camera movement.
Lionfish, nudibranchs and scorpionfish will be always present for you to photograph. One curious thing about all of them is the size, for some reason, fish and critters in this site are consistently bigger than everywhere else.
Night dives at The Barge
Right before dusk, hundreds of fusiliers start gathering around The Barge creating clouds of fish around the wreck, unfortunately, these schools are not easy to photograph. But there is plenty around to keep you entertained. Nudibranchs of many species crawl along the bottom and small morays that hide during the day are now out and hunting.
A word of advice. When diving at night at the barge, be extremely careful with your buoyancy. Hundreds of long spine urchins crawl around and if you get too close to the bottom there is a risk of getting stung.
A special treat
Swim away from the barge heading towards the shallows. You will see a sandy alley and on the other side a small shallow gap on the reef. This will lead you to a shallow lagoon. The corals around this small channel are gorgeous and being incredibly shallow it is a great place to try some split levels or dappled light.
Swim into the lagoon and a few meters in you will see a lonely coral tree. This is home to a number of lemon gobies. This beautiful little fish are relatively rare and very shy but here is relatively easy to photograph them.
Toward the back of the lagoon, in just 3 mt of water, there are some old dead coral heads, in there you can spot a relatively unknown and undescribed species of blenny, known as unicorn blenny. Its funny face is great to practice your super macro skills.
In the afternoons, keep an eye out for dolphins, these magnificent creatures live in the bay and after a day hunting in the open water they generally come back to spend the night in the relatively protected waters. is not uncommon for them to pay a visit and play for a few minutes with the divers.
In the event you have a wide-angle lens, crank up the shutter speed and iso and try to get some shots of these remarkable mammals.
As a photographer, a dedicated photography trip is the best way to get the most of The Barge. The Winter Warmer is a trip dedicated to photographers that focus on key sites. Instead of spending time traveling between dive sites, it stops on the places that are good for photographers giving divers plenty of opportunities to shoot. An “open deck” policy ensures you have the chance to dive the same site at different times and with different camera setups to ensure you come back with that elusive shot in your bag.
Join Mario on one of the “Winter Warmers “ photo trips to have the chance to dive carefully selected dive sites in the Northern Red Sea and take your underwater photography skills to the next level.
Mario is well known for his patient, calm approach to teaching underwater photography – he will help you develop new skills and build your confidence in a relaxed and fun environment.